A bill that would tighten rules for people who apply for handicapped parking privileges and strengthen penalties for those who abuse them has cleared the Senate and now moves to the House, where it has withered twice before.

Proponents of the legislation say increased attention on misuse of parking placards and plates intended for the disabled is likely to help the bill's chances of passing this year.

The bill was referred this week to the House Committee on Education and Public Works. The legislation would:

• Redefine what constitutes "handicapped," giving physicians strict criteria to go by when signing off on their patients' applications for handicapped parking.

• Require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a registration card along with all parking placards to help law enforcement officers flag people using placards that belong to someone else.

• Increase fines for people who falsify applications or misuse placards.

Ruth Jones, a Goose Creek resident whose spinal-cord injury confines her to a wheelchair, is among those lobbying for the new rules. "It's good news," she said. "If it passes, I think we are going to have a celebration."

Jones, a board member for the Disabilities Resource Center in North Charleston, is organizing other disabled residents in hopes of bringing a group to Columbia to ask state representatives to support the bill.

Angela Jacildone, advocacy manager in South Carolina for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the new rules would cut down on abuses by able-bodied people that make it difficult or impossible for the disabled to get around and maintain their independence.

Watchdog highlighted the issue in its series "Parking Cheaters," revealing widespread abuse of parking placards in downtown Charleston.

One common problem, which the Society is lobbying to have addressed when the House takes up the bill, involves striped areas adjacent to van-accessible handicapped parking spaces. Motorists often park in these areas or mistake them for shopping cart corrals.

"We've found that people will park there after the van pulls in," Jacildone said. "We've had to call tow trucks."

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